Back in 1997, Will Smith was on the cusp of being a superstar following The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Bad Boys, and Independence Day, and Men In Black put him over the top. It seems that pairing Smith with the grizzled yet commanding Tommy Lee Jones in the hilarious sci-fi action movie about a government agency that keeps aliens in check was exactly what viewers were looking for, paving the way for the film to earn $589 million worldwide and spawn a theme park ride and two sequels (with more potentially on the way).
While the film’s most enduring lessons are that Will Smith makes the black suit and Raybans “look good” and that his “Men In Black” theme song is still an earworm, there are still plenty of behind the scenes tidbits about Men In Black that are worth a look after nearly two decades. So let’s take a look.
There Is A Coen Brothers Connection
Every director has to start somewhere, and Men In Black‘s Barry Sonnenfeld had a pretty good leg up in the industry. Before he would go on to direct The Addams Family and Men In Black franchises, Sonnenfeld worked as the director of photography on multiple Coen Brothers films (Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, and Miller’s Crossing) as well as classics like Big and When Harry Met Sally.
Tommy Lee Jones’ Notorious Grumpiness Almost Cost Him His Shot.
Tommy Lee Jones’ reputation as a bit of a curmudgeon is quite well known, and director Barry Sonnenfeld wasn’t sure that he wanted to deal with that kind of attitude on his set. Sonnenfeld said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly.
“I saw Tommy do a TV interview a few years ago, and he was so mean I remember thinking ‘Thank God I never have to work with this jerk,'” he says. “But I ended up loving every minute of it. He can be difficult if you don’t have clear opinions, but we got along extraordinarily well.”
The Cast Could Have Been Quite Different.
While there were concerns about Tommy Lee Jones’ demeanor, laugh riot and cinema legend Clint Eastwood was reportedly offered the part of Agent Kay, though he turned it down, as did fellow Coen Bros. alum John Turturrowhen he was asked to play Edgar. Men In Black almost went in a very different direction with Agent Jay as Friends actor David Schwimmer also turned down the chance to save the universe.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s Bug Walk Took Some Hard Work.
There is a lot to love in Men In Black, but D’Onofrio’s cockroach infested Edgar is one of the best parts of the movie. As the alien shuffles around in the “Edgar suit,” D’Onofrio’s jerky physicality is both mesmerizing and hilarious, and the actor apparently got the idea from an unusual source. In an interview with Allocine, he revealed that he was inspired by various bug documentaries, but also from the braces that basketball players often wear.
“I was walking by a sporting goods store one day, and I saw these braces that the basketball players wear,” he said. “I went in and I tried one on and I realized you could lock it off, you could tape the hinges so that you can’t bend either way. So I bought two of them and I took them home and I put them on. So, I slightly bent my leg and locked off the braces so I couldn’t move either way, but it was slightly bent and I taped off both my feet and I tried to walk and it created this restrained, physical odd thing.”
Peeling off his skin, though, was all special effects.
Cockroach Care Is No Joke.
The Humane Society takes it’s claims that “no animals were harmed in filming” very seriously. This went all the way down to the cockroaches used on set, which, despite what the flying yellow goo would have you believe, were not crushed under the feet of Agent Jay. Instead, Smith smashed packets of mustard under his boots, and all of the roach extras had to be accounted for at the end of the day. I can’t imagine that was a fun job for whoever had to count them. _
Frank The Pug Was A Mariah Carey Level Diva.
While Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones may have been the stars of the movie, Mushu the pug, who played the foul-mouthed Frank, had a long list of demands of his own. His owner, Cheryl Shawver, gave an interview to The National Inquirer in 2002 explaining the pup’s fancy life. Not only did he hit the red carpet for the premieres, but he also had a pretty specific travel style and diet.
“He travels by crate in Business Class with Cristie [his trainer]. He goes under the seat. He stays in the hotel room with her, sleeps on her bed. She orders his meals from room service — steak, chicken. He drinks only bottled water when he’s on the road. He’s a VIP!”
The Film Took Attention To Detail Very Seriously
It’s always impressive when a big-budget spectacle film fixates on a little detail that most people will miss. In this case, we’re talking about the scene in Men In Black when Jay and Kay drive through the Midtown Tunnel in New York City. There’s a lot going on here: the car is upside down, Will Smith is standing on the ceiling while trying to get his bearings, and Tommy Lee Jones is rocking out to Elvis Pressley’s “Promised Land.” You’d be forgiven if you didn’t notice that, to make that scene a reality, filmmakers commissioned a 96-foot replica of the tunnel with a mirror of the graffiti (which took four months to build from scratch) to get parts of the shot. Because if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.
This is an updated version of a post that originally ran in November 2016.